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The Sexism of Adam and Eve: A Feminist Perspective on the Bible
The story of Adam and Eve appears in the bible just after the creation of the universe itself. This alone testifies to the high value this revolutionary monotheistic religion placed on hammering out a definitive code of gender relations. The Adam and Eve story is an extremely influential document in human history that sets up the social relationship between men and women. Unfortunately, this was done in such a way as to propagate the notion of female inferiority that has since had a major religious, political, and social impact on the status of women throughout history and in the modern present.
The diminished status of women by the Old Testament is clear from the conditions leading up to Eve’s creation and the way in which it was carried out. Adam was first created in God’s perfect image to rule amongst and name all of the other creatures God created. Eve (and thus, woman) was only created as an afterthought to appease Adam’s loneliness and desire for a companion that the other creatures were not able to satisfy. Some argue that woman intended to be equal to man based on the notion of Eve’s and Adam’s intended companionship thereafter. However, it becomes very clear in the way that Eve was created that she is in no way equal to Adam. While Adam was created in God’s image, Eve was merely created with one of Adam’s ribs. This secondary creation of Eve corresponds to the appalling treatment of women as second class citizens through the ages. Furthermore, to give a rib would not be a particularly hefty sacrifice for the human body. It would be another story altogether if Adam were required to give up a hand, an eye, or a lung for Eve. Humans are typically born with 24 to 26 ribs. The loss of one or two ribs has virtually no noticeable physiological impact. In effect, the story of Adam and Eve taught, and continues to each, each following generation that woman is but supplementary to man.
Further evidence of women’s biblical mistreatment becomes apparent in the conditions of the Fall of Adam. Of the three guilty parties, Eve’s punishment is the most severe. She is doomed to give painful childbirth and become the property of men. The real reason that childbirth is so difficult for women is that the sudden advancements in our intelligence (often explained as a result of the ancient origins of our ability to speak and the corresponding social consequences of this for us as a species) caused us to have much larger heads at birth. In reality, woman sacrificed the safety and ease of childbirth for the advanced intelligence and capacity for languages of our species. How did we repay her? We begin the most important piece of literature in Western civilization by blaming her for the existence of toil and death and claiming that the pain and potential fatality of child birth is her just reward. There is something seriously wrong with this picture.
In the broader context of spiritual history, we can really appreciate the irony of Eve bearing the brunt of bringing death to humankind. In the vast majority of spiritual and religious history leading up to the Old Testament (starting with the Earth Mothers of prehistoric peoples), female deities were lauded as the progenitors of life.